What money can’t buy | Dailytrust

What money can’t buy

Whether in measuring a nation’s vulnerability in the balance of power or the influence of a non-state actor, the supremacy of political power has always overridden any form of influence. The bid to equate money with power is also one inspired by a flawed understanding of power. The interests of Nigeria’s wealthy citizens in political offices, for instance, is a realization that money isn’t power, and this plays out whenever a political officeholder vacates a seat or a criminal occupies one. 

The controversial arrest of former Governor Rochas Okorocha’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, by armed police officers last week underlined this difference in power. He was arrested inside the church during the Sunday service and, according to him and as seen in viral images, the captors “asked me to remove my clothes, handcuffed me, snapped me, made a video, and sent it to the CSO.” The arrest and admitted mishandling explained why, despite his social status, Nwosu must’ve run for governor in Imo state. 

The politics of the arrest is the rift between Okorocha’s family and the current Governor Hope Uzodinma. Nwosu ran against Uzodinma in 2019 and failed to succeed his father-in-law. The fact that Nwosu who, according to him, was neither invited by the police nor served with a warrant of arrest, also validates the claim that the police episode is a reminder of his distance to real power. It was disclosed that he was arrested based on a petition that he was “sponsoring insecurity” in the state, but that doesn’t warrant the Commando-style power show at the church.  

The arrest of Nwosu is exactly the reason the political elite always struggle to take power or stay in office in Nigeria. Money is never enough protection. An unfavourable government can undo even centuries-old generational wealth in the blink of an eye. If the governorship election that produced Uzodinma had favoured the Action Alliance in Imo State, or Okorocha had not been tamed by the All Progressives Congress, the current Governor would’ve probably been the humiliated captive at the church last Sunday.  

Whether Dangote or Adenuga, Otedola or Sani Bello, a vengeful government can reduce any ultra-wealthy families or their heirs to small-time traders scouting for shops at Alaba Market. It can erase the famous surnames wherever money is made. This fear drives the quest for power, especially in a country this institutionally frail. Whether in Washington or Beijing, Moscow or London, the man with the capability to disrupt market dynamics with just a hastily-written press statement remains more powerful than those with fat bank accounts.  

In 2003, this reality of powers was also tested in Russia. The oil tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, stood up to President Vladimir Putin and made moves that undermined the latter’s hold on power. With a net worth of about $30 million, Khodorkovsky was Russia’s richest man. Then came the allegation that he owed the state about $27.5 billion in taxes. Putin rushed to have most of the assets of his company, Yukos Oil Company, seized and shared among loyal firms. 

Khodorkovsky rushed to attribute his “retribution for financing political parties that opposed Putin,” and that gross mistake led to his fall from the country’s richest man to a long-held prisoner, and charged for fraud, embezzlement, and money-laundering. In just about a decade, one of the world’s richest men was less than $250 million rich. He could afford the loyalty of a sizable number of citizens and even politicians, but daring to equate his power with the might of a person who controls means of production and distribution had him cut down to size.  

China too was quick to remind its richest citizen, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and the Ant Group, of the boundaries of his power. The billionaire’s disappearance for about three months in 2021 alarmed the world that he was feared dead or captured, and his travails began after his criticism of the Chinese financial system at an assembly of some of the country’s elite. Ma offered to revolutionize the system, but his ambition was interpreted as an attempt to undermine the reigning power.  

Ma’s decision to make Ant Group public, which was intended to be the world’s biggest initial public offering on the stock exchange, was halted by Chinese regulators, and the promising tech company was disassembled and parts of it offered to other firms. Like Khodorkovsky, a fine of about $2.8 billion was levied against Ma’s Alibaba for antitrust violations. Since his return to the public to watch the shrinking of his business empire, having also been removed as president of Hupan University, which he founded, he has maintained a respectable silence to watch what’s likely his financial funeral. 

The stories of Khodorkovsky and Ma are cautionary tales for others like them, those intoxicated to confuse money with actual power.  The political power is an envious and fragile space, and it responds to threats that attempt to play down its superiority unkindly. This has inspired this culture of either kissing the ring to retain or maintain one’s wealth and influence or ending up buried and erased for doing otherwise. 

Every election year, Nigerian billionaires too rush to finance political parties that have high chances of acquiring power. But, unlike Khodorkovsky, these politicians don’t stand up to the ruling party. They’ve mastered the art of dealing with all political camps, and their loyalty to the government has come from the awareness of its capability to neutralize them and their vast business empires.  

Nigerian elite has never found the geography of power confusing. It knows where the actual power lies, and the politically disadvantaged multimillionaires and billionaires have also learnt the art of tiptoeing through the palaces of serving politicians until they too chance upon the seats of power, which is the ambition of almost all families with stakes in big businesses. They know that money can’t buy the hurt egos of threatened leaders. Money may be a means to power, but it’s not power.

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